@Jamwanda2: South Africa: When children devour their revolution Little did it realise that a fragmenting ANC, and a vengeful Jacob Zuma and his MK Party, would write its requiem.


Recalling the Jacobin Terror

Those with a good sense of history will recall that the sequel to 1789 French Revolution was a phase of bloody executions under Maximilien Robespierre. 

The apparatus used then was the guillotine, itself a crude, but brutally efficient technology for dispatching victims through decapitation. 

The French king, Louis the XVI, inaugurated this grim phase by losing his neck on January 21, 1793. That earned him the sobriquet of Louis The Last, on a date which became the birthday of the French First Republic.

Devouring its own 

children, and itself

There was a commemorative line which historians used to describe a France groaning under Robespierre, a France into a nightmare born out of the illusory promise of the trinity of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. 

The line ran thus: The revolution was now devouring its own children! Our history teachers enjoyed repeating that gory metaphor to us, hoping they were describing this anti-monarchical revolution which had gone awry, to become some hard-to-satiate gorgon.

And as with all such dispensations, the last victim of that era was its author, Robespierre himself.

Warning from a friend in UNDP

Back during the days of our First Republic, I received a friendly warning from a Ghanaian national, then working for UNDP’s Zimbabwe office.

These were the heady days of a prolonged standoff between the First Republic and the West. 

The name of the Ghanaian was Busia who traced his parentage to a president of Ghana who went by the same name. 

Highly affable and pan-African in outlook, Busia stood out among a handful of Africans who were embedded with the Harare office of UNDP, who understood and quietly supported late President Mugabe’s fight against the West. 

But he had to be discreet in his support, for fear of professional and employment reprisals which at the time were fairly predictable.

So much was at stake, and UNDP’s Harare office then was a honeycomb of intelligence operators from the West who sought its cover to secure accreditation into Zimbabwe, and to duck both surveillance and consequences arising  from being “found out” by the embattled host State. 

UNDP also had several African uncle Toms, including a few who came from countries we always thought and regarded as allies who understood what was at stake.

Expectedly, Busia and I met in secrecy to swap opinions and assessments.

Fear of a failing, collapsing symbol

It emerged Busia was deeply concerned, even fearful that our embattled Zimbabwe was about to succumb and collapse from pressure.

This would not bode well for the rest of the African continent. Strident and abrasive, Zimbabwe was not just another African country.

It has become a rare symbol of brave Pan-African voice from the continent; it was among very few countries in the world ready and bold enough to challenge the overbearing global order which the hegemonic West had ordained through unchallenged unipolarity following the fall of the Soviet Union. 

As President Mugabe’s Press Officer, I had a big hand in authoring drafts to many such statements which challenged the hegemonic West.

A formidable set of adversities

At the time of this secret meeting, sanctions were biting really deep; they had taken their toll on the Zimbabwean economy. As if in conspiratorial sympathy, Nature, too, had weighed in by way of a searing drought. 

Worse, the ruling Zanu PF party itself was convulsing from within, worrisomely teetering towards antagonistic contradictions. Notably, these convulsions were beginning to take a strong counter-organisational form which Makoni’s Mavambo eventually became, all within structures of the ruling party itself, and so close to a general election. 

Although still abrasive, sharp and determined, President Mugabe was beginning to show ample signs of mortality, with time now levying a visible toll.

For how long would he hold his own, and continue to run the gauntlet against the West, many asked, even fearfully.

Remembering Frantz Fanon

Wasting no time, my brother Busia cut in: George, you recall Frantz Fanon’s words? Well, Fanon had left many words for the progressive world, words enough to fill several volumes, I answered in a voiced tinged with impatience at his unreasonable question which he intended to be rhetorical. 

Fanon, proceeded the courteous and unflappable Busia, long and loudly warned that any revolution, however successful it may be in mobilising the masses, must also always ensure the basic needs of the masses, themselves the motor of history, are minimally addressed, and preferably met for the masses to keep their faith in the Struggle. 

If not, Busia added, the masses, however well imbued or charged with revolutionary zeal and fervour, could very easily end up being incited by an empty stomach to act against their own core interests, however right, high or hallowed these may be. Even as you struggle, Busia added, you must seek and strive to ameliorate the social conditions of the struggling masses so they keep and retain faith in the cause.

The day I got alarmed

Turning to our immediate situation, Busia raised alarm over the level of desperation in the country which hunger and sanctions had wrought. He raised alarm, especially, over the havoc which currency turbulence and resultant inflation had wreaked upon the masses.

A huge portion of the majority of our people had lost value, a situation which was creating exasperation in the country, setting many against Zanu PF, and spawning an anti-nationalist sentiment in the country. Left unchecked, Busia warned, such desperation would ruin resolve and belief in the national project to do with Land Reforms, total Independence and black empowerment! I was startled; very!

Unpalatable truth

No one had put it so well, so convincingly, yet meaning well. No one, too, had ever out-read me on Fanon, let alone so plausibly reducing Fanon’s broad statements and principles into such practical tools for concise social analysis.

Worse, I could see what Busia meant all around me! Here was a man from afar confirming it. I knew he meant well, and supported us wholeheartedly. 

He could not be counted among those sent to infiltrate us; or sent to deliberately sow despondency within our ranks. As often, humans seek to fend off unpalatable truths by making the obvious unthinkable. What confronted us verged on the existential; very few had the courage to acknowledge this reality, much as it bore down hard on us.

The day the Zulu Nation died

South Africa has just gone through a very tough plebiscite. Toughest for the African National Congress, the ANC; tough and tougher for IFP and EFF respectively.

Post-Buthelezi, IFP has been struggling merely to be. 

Little did it realise that a fragmenting ANC, and a vengeful Jacob Zuma and his MK Party, would write its requiem.

There was this belief that the unity of the Zulu Nation would transcend little leadership squabbles and divisions, both inside IFP and beyond. It was a grave miscalculation, one which could have been hidden had IFP decided to join and hide behind the new MK, possibly through a pre-election pact akin to that done by DA and several small parties, both black and white.

IFP became in KZN what FF+ is to the white vlok. So much parallels.

EFF had to decline in this 


Tougher for the EFF. Definitely; what we can debate are the whys and wherefores.

The bottomline is that EFF did badly, both by its own expectations and by those of the public, whether within or without South Africa. 

We have to concede this: Julius Malema long re-invented himself as a larger-than-South Africa-politician; he has become a continental politician, which is why and how his poor showing today reverberates from Cape to Cairo. 

Many inside his party think it is his pan-African, open-borders politics which cost him as dearly as it deeply endeared him to Africa and Africans. 

That may be true; what is truer though is that it was time the EFF declined, as all living things and organisations are wont to.

Three or four attempts at national governance, the EFF was bound to slump. It is that basic and predictable. 

Ask Tsvangirai, if you can; ask Chamisa, as you should. The only way to defy this iron-clad rule of politics is through change of leadership.

As the DA did and continues to do. New and changed personalities at the helm, give supporters and voters an illusion of change and newness, thus allowing organisations to duck mortality. Some balance between stable continuity and the slacking of a thirst for change.

Thank you Julius and RIP!

But there is another reason. Both by age and temperament, Julius Malema was always fated to remain in the ANC Youth League, while leaving it for, and to lead the EFF. Yes, to lead the EFF, but not to lead South Africa. 

No Youth Leaguer ever does, in future, now or ever in history. Check that out! You have to graduate from the crib of Youth League into the main wing before you can aspire to lead nationally.

What is even easier is never to have been a Youth Leaguer before becoming a leader. 

There are numerous such examples. The role of the youths in any organisation is that of a ginger group: to noisily agitate for a cause or causes; to agitate, to move, to shake, indeed to cause occasional perturbations that propels history forward. It’s not to govern. 

Thus far on on that score, Julius Malema has fared superbly; both South Africa and Africa shall forever be grateful to him and his EFF.

South Africa’s current post-election conundrum is the best tribute to Malema. He, after all it was who founded Zuma and MK! Zuma especially.

In power, Zuma was the degraded ANC of Mandela; he never governed like a Malema, even a mild one. But once out of power, Zuma thought, organised and fought like a Malema.

Adversity made Zuma a Malema, thereby causing the upset we now have in the whole South African body-politic. Thank you Julius; Goodbye and R.I.P!

When the masses revolt against own ideals

When a governing Party loses ground to MK, Patriotic Alliance and EFF combined, it must and should realise it is badly mis-aligned to national sentiment. It will have governed on a deficit, well outside the emerging or even reigning zeitgeist.

This is where the ANC finds itself! Worse, when a ruling Party loses ground and supporters to erstwhile owners of apartheid it fought against, the lesson to it is both sombre and sobering.

 Simply put, it means you have driven your people into utter desperation, even despair. Into a state of mind where they conclude that the Revolution you led them through in the past, has declined to some burdensome disutility which is far more costly than the odious system you revolted against. And a people in despondency and despair do not look forward; they always look back with romantic hanker!

I am not here talking about the opportunistic verdict of opposition parties. 

That is a mere opinion; I refer to a situation where more than 60 percent of voters transfer votes and loyalties to your degraded alter ego, or outrightly to forces of apartheid. And where some 48 percent shuns the plebiscite altogether. What confronts you in those circumstances is far more than a mere opinion; it is a mass sentiment; some zeitgeist! One must worry!

Mandela versus Mugabe

Mandela named post-1994 South Africa the Rainbow Nation; he then died. Mugabe called the post-1980 Zimbabwe a Phase of Reconciliation; it an appropriate time he then killed that Phase. There is a key difference there which might have been lost to the ANC. 

After Mandela, the miasmic Rainbow continued to govern South Africa: through Mbeki, Motlanthe, Zuma and now through Ramaphosa. Expectedly, it exhausted itself, and paled into utter invisibility before a gathering dark storm of a Nation embittered by unmet expectations, embittered by a false, governing illusion.

By contrast, Mugabe’s pursuit of the wartime goal of land was unrelenting, was inexorable, whatever vocabulary he invented and deployed to ensnare white Rhodesians and lull them through false assurances.

Clear markers of

 transformative agenda

I was there, inside the cockpit. Then, and even today through hindsight, the markers of Mugabe’s relentless pursuit of wartime goals were visible. 

Abolition of clauses in the Lancaster House Constitution protecting 20 white seats; abolition of willing-seller, willing buyer clause on land; destruction of a white-dominated Bench; jettisoning of ESAP; Land Acquisition clause in the Constitution; unleashing of War Veterans after two key auguries: Svosve Land Occupation and the landmark Chinhoyi Indaba with War Veterans. 

Finally, the breaking of ties with the Western World for full-blown Land Reforms and Economic Empowerment. Very clear milestones for an inexorable drift towards wartime goals of the Struggle! I challenge anyone inside or outside South Africa to raise a quarter of equivalents to these clear milestones from Mandela’s era and beyond; just a quarter!

Sleeping with breast in the mouth

Therein lies the tragedy in and of the ANC. Here in Shona parlance, we say the ANC suckled a stranger’s breast and dozed off, with the breast stuck in the mouth.

It nearly choked! The real challenge is for the ANC to know that there is also what is called slow chocking! A slow, wakeful choke! Its names are Coalition Government, CG, or Government of National Unity, GNU. While the two seem different, in the praxis of daily governance choices, they may meld. As seems likely as the ANC makes hard choices beyond the bad plebiscite. 

Because there has been so much public outrage over the ANC-DA coalition; so much outrage inside the ANC and DA over the ANC-MK-EFF coalition, what seems set to happen is CBAC: Coalition-By-Appointment to Cabinet.

The synonym of that is GNU. Under GNU, a coalition or coalitions are implied, or presupposed. To the extent this is done by the President, it means President Ramaphosa is saved, as is wished by some in ANC.

He becomes the appointing authority. To the extent DA figures may be appointed, and to the extent the whole arrangement harkens to Mandela’s inaugural 1994 formulae, it means both the hardliners in ANC and the Stellenbosch mandarins are appeased.

To the extent that the EFF and/or MK may or may not take up offers for appointments, the ANC can plausibly turn around to tell the world the radicals have had their desires met, or have been exposed at spurning at national unity, as demanded by voters through the recent electoral outcome.

Ain’t no black on the Rainbow

Let us tie the ends. Unlike the French Revolution, in South Africa, it is the children, not the revolution, who have eaten their revolution. Quietly through a vote of perplexing outcomes.

No loud blade from its suspension; only a cross on a piece of paper. I am not blaming the sovereign voter; he is always supreme.

I am only recalling a reversal of a maxim from history, thanks to South Africa. I, too, am recalling Frantz Fanon’s prophetic words on ensuring the masses are not driven to that state where they begin to hurt their own interest, sadly again as has just happened in South Africa.

Lastly, I am warning liberation movements against the dangers of running countries through catchy, even meaningless metaphors.

The ANC should have known that a “rainbow” is always a will-of-wisp, however colourful it may be. Worse, that ain’t no black on the Rainbow!

This column is usually            published on Saturday

You Might Also Like